Advanced Research Using Supercomputers - From Molecular Biology To Astrophysics.


About five years ago, the physicist Klaus Tschira (1940 – 2015) and the Klaus Tschira Foundation founded the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS). Today, around 120 scientists from 22 countries work at the non-profit research institute. Organized in 13 groups, they explore scientific subjects by means of advanced mathematical and computational methods and powerful supercomputers. Looking back on the past year, the newly published annual report illustrates the spectrum of HITS research and the development of the institution after the decease of Klaus Tschira at the end of March 2015. “We are continuing to pursue our goal of high-level interdisciplinary work on data-driven research in the pioneering spirit of our founder,” says HITS Scientific Director Prof. Rebecca Wade, who heads the HITS together with Managing Director Dr. Gesa Schönberger.

In 2015, once again two HITS scientists numbered among the world’s most cited researchers. The Thomson Reuters Group study “Highly Cited Researchers” showed that the work of astrophysicist Prof. Volker Springel (Theoretical Astrophysics group) and mathematician Prof. Tilmann Gneiting (Computational Statistics group) belongs to the top one percent of the world’s most cited research in their respective fields. The ranking is an important indicator of the influence of a scientific publication.

HITS-mathematicians Dr. Michael Schick and Prof. Vincent Heuveline (Data Mining and Uncertainty Quantification group) published a scientific paper on the computational simulation of flow processes in one of the five journals of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) for which they received one of the highest honors in the field of applied mathematics.

Numerous research results are the outcome of intensive cooperations of HITS scientists with other researchers at home and abroad. Thus, HITS scientist Prof. Frauke Gräter (Molecular Biomechanics Group), together with colleagues from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the Institute of Structural Biology (IBS) in Grenoble in France solved a fundamental mystery of molecular biology: The question of how the traffic of molecules between the cytoplasm and the nucleus of a cell can be so fast and yet accurate enough to prevent the passage of unwanted molecules. Using computer simulations and experiments, the researchers found that a very flexible and disordered protein can bind to its receptor within billionths of a second (publication in the journal “Cell”).

Moreover, two new groups were set up in 2015: In January, the group “Physics of Stellar Objects” began to work under astrophysicist Prof. Fritz Röpke. It investigates the death of stars, the so-called “supernovae”. In July, the mathematician Prof. Anna Wienhard set up her group “Groups and Geometry”. She examines symmetries and so-called deformation spaces in geometric structures. The HITS astrophysicist Dr. Christoph Pfrommer received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) worth two million euros for his research project, enabling him to establish his own junior group at the institute.

In autumn 2016, HITS and the University of Heidelberg plan to fill a new professorship for scientific visualization. “The close collaboration with Heidelberg University and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is also documented by the fact that both became shareholders of HITS at the end of 2014,” institute Scientific Director Prof. Rebecca Wade explains.